3 September 2009

A new kind of date rape

Or rather, a new way to blame women for being raped.

Okay, so it's an article in Cosmo. Yes, I know I shouldn't expect any better. It's like watching tt or aca and expecting journalism.

But really, I can't quite work out what Laura Sessions Stepp is trying to achieve with this article. So I'll break it down.

Stepp basically says that there is a 'grey area' surrounding consent. That, I would soundly agree with. Although the rules of consent are clearly and legally defined, there is a huge grey area when it comes to understanding what those rules are.

But from here, she doesn't seem to be thinking an awful lot. I know, I know. Cosmo. But her conclusions just don't add up. Yeah. Cosmo. I get it. Not quality.

Bear with me.

This new type of rape, 'grey rape', is that fuzzy area where no one said no, but someone feels raped. Note, this is a 'new' kind of rape, which, according to Stepp, has evolved as a result of the pick-up culture. What is the pick-up culture? The one where people can 'pick each other up'.

You know, for sex.

In the good old days, roles were clearer because women wanted relationships and men wanted sex. Rape was easy to define. Now that women can and do seek out casual sex, everything's a murky grey. This is how Stepp puts it: But those boundaries and rules have been loosening up for decades, and now lots of women feel it’s perfectly okay to go out looking for a hook-up or to be the aggressor, which may turn out fine for them — unless the signals get mixed or misread.

Yes, you heard it - women get raped because they enjoy casual sex and aren't giving clear enough signals. Apparently, if you have a sex drive and want to satisfy it outside the bonds of matrimony, then it's your fault if men can't tell whether you want them or not.

Stepp then proceeds to give a few pages of anecdotal examples, seemingly to prove her point. They all involved women who had said no but not loud enough so he might not have heard, had said they wanted to leave, had said outright that they didn't want sex, had stopped pushing, had passed out before it started - all different stories, but oddly enough all with one thing in common. None of the women had said Yes. And not once did anyone ask them for their consent. And yet Stepp didn't think this was a significant enough factor to point out at any stage in her article. Her emphasis was on how the victims reacted; more specifically how they didn't fight back hard enough.

It doesn't sound to me like these women were giving unclear signals - it sounds like no one was paying attention to the signals they were giving.

And to top it off, some of those girls were drunk. They were, according to Stepp, drinking almost as much as men. They were too drunk to be in control, to remember if they consented - that's why they experienced 'grey rape'. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't - who knows when you're that drunk. Strangely, the fact that someone is so blotto they can't give clear consent is taken as a reason for 'grey rape', instead of being textbook rape. Intoxicated=consent invalidated. Why is the fundamental issue of consent slipping between Stepp's fingers here?

Lesson, girls - don't drink. Doesn't matter if he does - you are the keeper of his moral compass. It is up to you to make sure he doesn't 'accidentally' become a rapist while drunk, by remaining sober yourself. Oh, and if you don't want sex, don't wait to be asked - you must kick and scream unceasingly throughout the entire experience or your consent is implied.

Because, if you weren't so damn confusing then the poor innocent men wouldn't accidentally rape you.

These poor guys, who just want sex and then get accused of rape. You can understand, with the mixed signals they recieve, why there would be a high level of cognative dissonance. They don't want to think of themselves as rapists. And if they're doing stuff that's classed as rape, that makes them rapists. But I'm a nice guy, not a rapist, - therefore what I'm doing can't be rape. Which means, if some chick says it is - well, she must have been lying. That's how a guy could force sex on a girl who didn't want any, then expect a hug goodnight, and walk out not realising that what he did was rape her; because he assumed compliance was consent. Classic cognative dissonance.

Except, that reading of the situation doesn't actually hold true once Stepp speaks to men. While she holds up a couple of examples as if they are the male side of the story, they are actually the male side of a sightly different story. And it isn't one where the men are blissfully unaware that the woman didn't consent.

She interviews a couple of guys for their take on things. Here's what one said: “I’ve had girls tell me ‘I don’t have sex on the first night.’ And I say, ‘That’s fine, I respect that. Mind if I play with you a little bit?’ A girl will say no, she doesn’t mind, then she’ll get so hot, she’ll say, ‘Let’s do it.’ That’s the scariest part. Is it then my responsibility to say no?

THERE. Did ya see it?

There is some evidence of consent. And what happened? He's worried she'll change her mind after the fact and re-write history to call it rape. After all - isn't that what date rape is - a chick who got into it and then cried rape afterwards? In doing this, he is casting doubt on all those other women who stood up and said they were date-raped - maybe they're revisionist, and maybe this one will be too - after all, she flicked from no consent to consent before. What's to stop her flicking back? ?

Nothing. But there is a fundamental difference between changing your mind about what you want now, and re-writing history to lie about what you wanted in the past. He is already casting her as a potential liar, and therefore a potentially unreliable witness; already defending himself against her potential accusations of rape. Why would he do this? More to the point, why would he even consider playing with her if he's worried she'll spring a rape accusation on him?

Note his use of language (yes, his language is significant). He didn't ask if she wanted him to play with her. He asked if she minded - as if her vagina was some kind of toy, a teddy bear or train set, that, if she didn't mind, didn't object, if it didn't bother her, he was going to play with for a while. As long as she didn't mind, it didn't actually matter whether she enjoyed it or not.

So we have men who believe they're decent guys, yet who view women's bodies as toys. And some of them, like this one, understand that you have to ask permission to play with the toy. But there is nothing in that sentence “Mind if I play with you a little bit?’ that implies he wants a willing partner, that he is even interested in engaging sexually with a person rather than just playing with the fun things she hides in her toy box (and we all know we have to share our toys, am I right? We all know it's not nice to chuck a tanty if someone comes over to play and dives into our toy box without asking, don't we. If we get angry, we're called selfish and told to play nicely, aren't we? Good. Just making the metaphor clear). His asking of consent is routine - not do you want me to do this, but will you agree to not complain if I do this. It's the language you use when you're slightly inconveniencing someone, not when you're trying to give them pleasure. Do ya mind if I take this seat? Do you mind if I borrow your lighter? Do you mind if I play with you a little?

Here's the kicker - when it comes to penile penetration, he then becomes scared that when she says yes she really means no - suddenly, whether she wants it matters. And it matters because now his behaviour could get him in trouble if she does complain- not because he genuinely cares whether she's into it or not. If he genuinely cared whether she was into it, he wouldn't have asked if she 'minded' him playing with her after she already said she didn't want sex. He wouldn't have accepted her consent then, only to raise his doubts later about her trustworthiness and whether she 'really' wanted it (when penile penetration could get him into trouble if she didn't) . Sounds like he's very conscious of how much he can get away with, and he's is unhappy with the fine line he's having to tread. Still, this one could still easily think of himself as a nice guy. Because hey, he actually respected her decision not to have sex, and asked if she minded him playing with her. So is it cognative dissonance or a planned strategy? Well, a little from column A, and a little from column B....

Stepp didn't notice any of this. She was too busy sympathising with the man for being unable to trust in this dodgy new climate of grey rape.

We're now getting a picture of men who view women's bodies as toys, who know that women sometimes want it, who are told that women are capricious and ambiguous - - Men who've been taught that rape is defined by how much the woman is kicking and screaming, who've been taught that if she doesn't want it, then it's her responsibility to kick and scream, because that's how you can tell she doesn't want it. Men who for the most part have been taught that it's okay to keep going unless she tells you to stop because that's how to get laid - but at the same time to be very very careful about the risk of a rape complaint. Men who, whether they care about consent or not, aren't told or expected to get it in any positive way. The message is reinforced from all sides: If she doesn't scream NO, then it's green light GO!

We also have women who don't expect to be asked for their consent, but are told that if you didn't kick and scream it wasn't rape, that if you wanted a bit you might have wanted the lot, that if you present yourself as a potential sexual partner it automatically becomes a fait accompli and anything you don't like from then on is your fault for not being clearer. It's your responsibility to see it coming, and it's your responsibility to stop it if it does - and if you don't, well, it wouldn't have happened if you had, that's all. If you stayed at home, if you stayed sober, if you'd stayed in your scummy clothes, if you had shouted louder. If you'd realised he was a rapist before he raped you wouldn't have been raped.

None of which is surprising in a context like this.

And yet according to Stepp, the reason why 'grey rape' occurs is because women enjoy and even seek out casual sex but aren't clear enough to men about what they actually want.

She reckons the guys find the pick-up culture secretly freeing, because it allows them to act like arseholes and use women.

Er, looking at the evidence, I'm not sure the pick-up culture is to blame.

In fact I know it isn't. The culture of assumed consent is to blame for supporting this kind of behaviour. That's not something Stepp is addressing or even acknowledging - she's too busy supporting it.

At the end of the article, Stipp urges women to 'protect themselves' against rape (because, you know, it's their responsibility to make sure they're not raped). Here, she seems to have lost her thread slightly - she can't decide now if the rapists are malevolent, or just bewildered at the greyness of girl's consent. There are four recommendations - recognise his mind games (of course, if he's playing mind games he's not too concerned about your consent), don't get drunk (if he rapes you when you're too drunk to notice - again, he's not too interested in consent), be more clear about what you want (this is her central argument - the classic 'it's your fault if you feel raped because he didn't know you didn't want it'), and then finally, as the last three sentences at the end of a six page article, this:

Under the law, a guy has to get a clear verbal or nonverbal yes from you to have sex. Just because you consent to one sexual activity (making out, even with few clothes on) does not mean you have given permission for any other. Also, silence doesn’t always equal consent, nor does being too drunk to know what you’re doing.

Why was that tucked away (and not in bold either) at the end of a six page long article about how women's unclear signals are responsible for their rapes? Confusion about consent was established as the issue in the very beginning, yet consent was not defined in the article until the very end. - All through the middle, women are blamed for being raped and told how to avoid rape. Then right at the end, Stipp adds a kind of ps actually it's completely the men's responsibility to stop rape. It jarrs with the rest of the article, like she's cut and pasted in a hurry to get her word count up, or her editor just slipped this token in at the last minute. Three sentences, at the END of a six page article. Those three little sentences didn't have much impact. They were kind of diluted by the previous six pages of grey.

It is quite difficult for me, given the above, to see much evidence that that Laura Stipp believes any of the following :
- that men are responsible for making sure the person they want gives their consent - sober, prior to the event, and at every step of the way.
-That when consent is denied, unclear or unsought, men are responsible for not raping women.
-That women's boundaries around their bodies should be accepted.
-That women who identify as rape victims will get support.
-That men should never rape women, even if she enjoys sex, enjoys men's company, changes her mind, hangs out in bars or gets drunk.
-That even if the woman is not kicking and screaming, if she hasn't given consent it is rape.

This is how Stipp ends the article, but it's inconsistent with the rest of her argument.

Initially, this article posited a question, 'was I raped.' I would love to say that this article enlightened me on the seriousness of sexual assault and the importance of consent, considering that consent is what everyone is confused about here.

Unfortunately, the message I came away with was, well, it probably wasn't rape, but if it was, it might have been your fault, and anyway, you'll never really know. So girls, if you're not sure whether you were raped or not, well, you should carefully examine if you wanted it or not, and whether you were clear enough about what you wanted. Then, according to Laura, "if something bad does happen, seek help immediately, and don’t blame yourself. It was incredibly empowering for me to say ‘I’m a survivor of rape.’”

WTF? How, exactly, is it 'empowering' to say you're a survivor of rape in a context like this, where if you seek help, you're likely to come up against judges like this, and then afterwards have to deal with arseholes like this, when there is barely a hint anywhere of this?

And wtf does 'empowering' mean anyway?


Oh, one more thing.

While I was flicking from page to page of that article, I noticed the URL. At first I thought it was unfortunately misfiled; then I realised it was exactly where they wanted it to be.

www.cosmopolitan.com/sex-love/tips-moves/new-kind-of-date-rape

Sex love. Tips moves. New kind of date rape. They had the option to file this under 'secrets and advice'; it fits that pretty well. But instead they chose to file it under 'sex and love', in the 'sex moves and tips - best sex advice' section. Yep, rape is in the same category as sex and love, just another way to make a move. Want some tips? It's so difficult for people to accept that rape is a crime.

And they wonder why we're all confused about what really happened.

10 comments:

Rebecca said...

This "doesn't remember if she consented" is bullshit. Always. Whether it's because of drink, whether it's because of mental illness - she is more likely to have trouble remembering whether sex occurred than whether she consented. And if she's that drunk or that mentally impaired, SHE CANNOT GIVE MEANINGFUL CONSENT.

cinnamon girl said...

It shits me to tears that this basic fundamental point about consent is being missed by so many people.

Li Meng said...

Good article!Thank you!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
cinnamon girl said...

Anonymous, I do not allow belligerent vitriolic trolls on my blog.
If you can come up with an intelligent comment, I'll let it stand.
Until then, STFU.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
cinnamon girl said...

Are you fucking serious Anonymous? You actually think that expecting men to ask for consent is sexism?

Well fuck you then...

You don't sound like a woman to me. Saying things like "what is this consent bullshit?" makes you sound like, well, a man who doesn't care if the woman he is fucking has actually consented to sex.

Mixing up consensual sex and rape the way you have is the whole problem.

In fact, you sound like a fucking troll. FUCK YOU.

cinnamon girl said...

Actually, on second thoughts I'm going to delete your comment too Anonymous. You have deliberately misunderstood this post. I am not 'dumbing down' women. I am not saying women are helpless idiots who must be coddled by men. I am not saying people can have consensual sex and then turn around and say it was rape. I am not saying any of the bullshit you think I am saying.

If you want to read it again, and make an relevant comment rather than one full of derailing tactics and false accusations, then I'll let it stand.

PS you might want to learn a bit about rape before you do. If you really are a woman as you claim, then it's a pretty sad reflection of our culture that you think rape is only rape if the woman is 'torn open'.

Anonymous said...

On saturday I was very drunk and I was about to find my way home from a bar when a very nice Australian man befriended me and apparently took me home, I remember meeting him but don't remember much until we were in my apartment having sex. It was good sex from what I remember while I was drunk. He stayed the night and cuddled and in the morning started to have sex with me again, but while I was asleep and more sober. At first I didn't mind. Half way through I told him to stop because I started to realize I was having sex with a complete stranger and it didn't feel good it felt bad and hurtful. I still to this day don't know his name. He basically grabbed his clothes and ran out of my apartment when I told him to stop. I felt strangely ok because I had gotten sex which I think I needed hormonally but also felt physically violated because I never would have had sex with a strange dude if I was sober. He, at the time, seemed nice, brought me home safe with my purse, wallet, etc but who seduced who when we got to my place... I have no recollection. In the morning when I sobered up I just wasn't having fun anymore. It made me feel sad and bad about my situation. I am sure I was giving mixed messages but was not coherent enough to know how he was. I wish in hindsight he had been sober (he may have been sober-I have no idea) enough to realize I was shitfaced and would regret whatever happened but also I should have been sober enough to realize that, it's not his responsibility to be my guardian - that's what boyfriend's are for, he doesn't know me. Maybe he did it maliciously or maybe completely innocent, I'm guessing innocent, it's not like he forced it but if he had been nice he might have left his name or number or stayed when I told him to stop but maybe he got scared. I have no idea, I also have no idea who he was or how to find him. Perhaps I should be filed as a slut or mentally ill or perhaps he's a rapist. Now I just wish I knew one way or the other who he was so I could stop being so confused about what happened. Think on that...

cinnamon girl said...

Anonymous, sounds like that experience has affected you deeply. I'm sorry for that. I guess you can't change the past, and you may never know who he is... that not-knowing can be very difficult. All you can really do is take it as a 'teaching moment'.

In the context of this article, my first thought was 'I'm so glad he stopped when you asked'. But it's a complicated experience you went through, more complicated than that. Who knows why he thought it was ok in the first place...